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The Huia’s Lament


In “Huia’s Lament” I am looking at the many aspects surrounding the Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) including their extraordinary beauty and their rapid and tragic demise. A situation compounded by the loss of habitat and the Victorian era consumed with the need of that time for scientific advancement and to fill the cabinets of curiosity abroad. The European need to adorn themselves with Huia feathers for their hats and beaks for novelty jewellery lead to a bounty being placed on the birds at one stage, and up to £5 being paid for a single good quality feather in some instances.

Huia feathers and dried skins were considered as tapu (scared) to the Maori and the wearing of its skin or feathers was reserved for people of high status. The feathers were stored in carved boxes suspended from the ceiling called “waka huia”. Although Huia were considered tapu by Maori with strict restrictions on where and when they could be hunted, with the advent of bounties on the birds these restrictions became futile.

Other key influences on their demise have been the introduction of pests such as stoats, ferrets, rabbits, cats, dogs’ rats and mice. Some of these introductions may have originally been accidental but they have become major threats to many of our endemic species. The last confirmed sighting of the Huia was on 28 December 1907 in the Tararua Ranges.